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rabbit or rarebit?

September 28, 2018

Everyone loves a nice Welsh rarebit, don’t they? Bubbling cheese on toast with a dash of Worcester sauce or so, maybe a dab of mustard. Delicious. But where did this strange word rarebit come from?

I think – and this is only a hypothesis, but it has some circumstantial evidence in its favour – that rarebit is, or was, a misnomer, and the original name of the dish was Welsh rabbit. Somebody somewhere either misheard or mispronounced it, or perhaps somebody thought ‘No, it can’t be rabbit, it’s got nothing to do with rabbits; it must be something else – maybe… rarebit? A nice little rare bit of something tasty, that must be it!’ And so this new pronunciation – or new word, really – caught on.

Here is my circumstantial evidence. When I was a boy you still heard both versions, rabbit and rarebit. I was always convinced that rarebit was the correct version, and the rabbiters had got it wrong. But people did occasionally say Welsh rabbit, which they no longer do.

The next bit of evidence comes from the PG Wodehouse story ‘Jeeves and the Chump Cyril’, which contains the line ‘I got the feeling I was as popular with him as a cold Welsh rabbit’. This story appears in The Inimitable Jeeves, published in 1923.

My final bit of evidence is an analogy with the dish Scotch woodcock, which is nothing to do with woodcocks, but is actually egg on toast. I think both Welsh rabbit and Scotch woodcock are different versions of the same joke: we haven’t actually got any rabbit or woodcock to give you, but here’s the next best thing!

I’ll carry on saying Welsh rarebit as the habit is now too ingrained to break; but I’m convinced the original form was rabbit.

Writing this has made me feel a little peckish. I fancy a nice simple quick and tasty snack. Hmm, what shall I have…?

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One Comment
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    I think Welsh Rabbit started as a joke and was later amended to reduce the offense. On a slightly similar topic Chicken Drumsticks are supposedly so called as people were too prudish to say the word leg, likewise breast and thigh were replaced with white and dark meat.

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